Former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial draft prospects in recent memory. Although he is extremely explosive, agile, and productive, his draft stock is hindered because of a history of poor decision making. In one case, he was suspended for one game for disrespecting a parking attendant after receiving a ticket.
However, the most notable case against him was an incident that occurred during his freshman year at Oklahoma, in which he punched a female student and was charged with misdemeanor assault as a result. The case seriously damaged his off-field reputation, and matters were only made worse when a video of the incident was released in 2016 (more than two years after the fact) at which point Mixon issued a public apology.
For that reason, teams have been hesitant to consider selecting Mixon, worrying about his past. If not for the red flags, Mixon would be a Round 1 selection and potential top 10 pick. On the flip side, Mixon’s slipping draft stock has helped the draft stock of Alvin Kamara, who is seen as a less complete version of Mixon on-the-field, but without the off-field baggage.
“I would not be surprised if a number of those teams think they can just pivot to a clean Alvin Kamara,” NFL Draft analyst Josh Norris said on NBCSN radio of teams who have previously considered Mixon. “Because, I think Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee has a similar skill set for teams that want to deploy that type of receiving back with running upside, as well. Again, Alvin Kamara has done, basically, nothing wrong, in comparison to Joe Mixon.”
It doesn’t make much sense for the Bengals to pick up a running back in the first round. There are too many other great talents who will be available at No. 9 for the Bengals to pick up Leonard Fournette, the only running back in the draft who seems worthy of a top 10 selection. Therefore, the Bengals will likely be looking to take a running back in the second round, at which point it is likely both Mixon and Kamara will be available.
Despite all of the negative things in Mixon’s past, it is impossible to deny his on-the-field talent.
However, that is not to say there isn’t almost as much upside for the ‘safer’ prospect in Kamara. One look at his highlight tape should leave anyone convinced that picking him over Mixon is not ‘settling’ by any means.
The primary knocks against Kamara are his vision and instincts as a runner. They are not where they could be for a prospect of his caliber. Mixon also lacks top-tier vision at times, but his instinctual ability as a runner is one of his best qualities. However, both prospects are known as explosive runners who can create something out of seemingly nothing at any given opportunity. It is impossible to deny Mixon’s overall talent and potential is greater than Kamara’s, but the gap is not as wide as some analysts make it out to be.
A player’s value in the NFL can not be solely based on how they look coming out of college. Take the 1998 NFL Draft, for example. At the time, there was plenty of debate as to whether Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf would be the best choice for the Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 overall.
At the time, some scouts were worried about Manning’s character as a result of a sexual harassment lawsuit at Tennessee, which Manning was seen to be partly responsible for. Manning was still seen as the more ‘mature’ prospect, but Leaf had a squeaky clean record at the time and was seen to have more potential as a passer. Fast forward to 2017 and well all know the story of how Manning turned out to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, while Leaf flamed out after battling drug addiction and issues with transitioning from college to the NFL.
I wouldn’t want to say that either Mixon or Kamara has the potential to turn into Ryan Leaf, but the moral of the story is you can never truly tell how a player will act in the NFL, based on how they act in college. For that reason, it is hard to blame teams like the Bengals for wanting to look past Mixon’s history and draft him based on his potential.
Personally, I would pick Kamara. Yes, Mixon is the more explosive talent, but as previously mentioned, the gap between the two is not particularly huge. Like Manning in 1998, Kamara is much more mature, steadier, and has all of the potential in the world to be great in the NFL. He is a multi-tooled offensive weapon who should pair perfectly with Giovani Bernard, fitting the Bengals’ offense like a glove.
Mixon could be a great running back in the NFL as well, but his baggage is impossible to deny. Failing to publically apologize for punching a woman until a video was released two years later shows an outstanding lack of maturity, which is one of the most important things a player can have in the NFL. Kamara appears ready for the NFL as both a player and a person, whereas Mixon only appears ready in one of those areas.